Innovative, Indigenous and Inclusive

Hudson Taylor’s story is an inspiring and well-documented one. As a young man he had become burdened for the lost souls in China.

At the age of just sixteen, Taylor prayed that the Lord would give him ‘some work to do for Him, however trying or however trivial’. It was to be a few years later that Taylor discovered the work the Lord had prepared for him. We wanted to take this opportunity to look at three key traits that marked the work of Hudson Taylor and CIM and ask; are these part of OMF and its work today?

Hudson Taylor was innovative, changing the way mission was approached, attempting new and ambitious endeavours. We can see this in many ways; an early example is in Hudson Taylor’s preparation for leaving to China. In his autobiography, A Retrospect, Taylor recalls ‘My feather bed I had taken away, and sought to dispense with as many other home comforts as I could,in order prepare myself for rougher lines of life.’ This innovative and sacrificial form of preparation almost certainly helped prepare him for what God was calling him to do in the long term.

Innovation was also a trait of the CIM. Until Hudson Taylor’s indication that the CIM should have inland China as its ‘special object’ there were no known missions focusing on this area. In fact, according to the first CIM Occasional Paper, of the 18 provinces of China proper, missionaries were located in just seven; most of these were coastal. Taylor’s vision of Chinese men and women heading for a ‘Christless eternity’ drove the mission into pioneering towards new areas; innovation was in their DNA.

Inclusivity is a second trait of the CIM. In a recent interview, author Rose Dowsett commented that, ‘Taylor cared more that people were passionate for the Lord and for the gospel than their churchmanship…Taylor was happy to include people from all walks of life.’ Unlike most mission societies at the time, the CIM did not constrain itself by only considering ordained ministers for mission. Taylor’s insistence that unmarried women were to be missionaries in their own right was something mostly unheard of at the time. The Lammermuir, which famously carried many of the first CIM missionaries to China, had on board no ordained ministers, but nine unmarried women.

One of Taylor’s chief desires was that the CIM cultivate indigeneity. Its goal was not to build a western church in East Asia but the growth of a uniquely Chinese church. Taylor aimed to see ‘Christian Chinese – true Christians, but Chinese in every sense of the word’. The long-term goal of the CIM was that Chinese Christians would be discipled and built up to lead Chinese congregations.

It is well known that Taylor encouraged all the members of CIM to dress in a culturally appropriate way, himself donning Chinese garments and a pigtail, but he also insisted that any decisions regarding the mission should be made in China. It was for this reason he created the China Council. The CIM was never to be controlled by a foreign master from afar; instead decisions were made as close to the action as possible.

We hope never to lose these traits, and will always strive to maintain inclusivity, encourage innovation and support the growing indigenous churches in East Asia. These values are being demonstrated all over the OMF network.

OMF continues to be innovative, both in the ways we share the gospel and the ways we interact with the cultures we work among. In many places OMF sends workers to become part of the fabric of the society; they create businesses, employ locals, work in hospitals and schools, even start dance classes. These are not simply ways to obtain visas, they are the harvest fields of individuals passionately involved in holistic mission. Spreading the gospel innovatively in the workplaces of Asia is just as important as the traditional forms of evangelism.

Inclusivity remains a key part of OMF’s identity. Just as in the days of the CIM, OMF endeavours to send people from all walks of life. Church planters, teachers, publishers, even marine biologists all can find their skills useful in God’s mission in East Asia. The relative ease of travel has now allowed OMF to become even more inclusive, allowing young men and women, who could not yet go out long term, to go on short-term trips, to pray with, encourage and support the church, both in Asia and at home.

Hudson Taylor’s desire for the mission to be as indigenous as possible still marks the organisation today. Just as in Hudson Taylor’s day, the headquarters of the mission is still in East Asia and all major decisions happen as close to the ‘action’ as possible, reflecting our aim to lead from the ministry context. Language, culture and worldview studies are still of prime importance, and most missionaries are continually fine-tuning their language skills. We are now seeing many more Asian missionaries joining the organisation. Patrick Fung, the General Director, is himself from Hong Kong.

In the modern world, the need to contextualize is not only important overseas. Homesides in the UK, USA, and other areas want to use their experience of adapting to culture over the past 150 years to teach local churches, who increasingly find Islam and Buddhism as being part of the changing western culture. Contextualization has always been a characteristic of gospel ministry for OMF, but now is growing in importance for many Christians within their communities.

For 150 years churches around the world have been sending missionaries to East Asia, and by God’s grace will continue to. These missionaries have learnt to be indigenous, inclusive and innovative. Now, as the different cultures and nationalities live side by side in western neighbourhoods, OMF hopes to pass on these traits to the local churches so they can reach out in the same way CIM and OMF missionaries have been since 1865.